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Computex 2008: VIA and NVIDIA Begin Beautiful Friendship

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Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: VIA
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New Nano Performance Information

VIA's Nano Has Work To Do

We have been following the VIA Nano processor, previously known simply as the VIA Isaiah architecture, for a long time here at PC Perspective.  The processor has been the baby of VIA/Centaur for quite a while and it was officially unveiled just recently with a retail product name and SKUs ready for sale to OEMs and system builders this summer. 

Obviously though, Intel has popped up with a similarly-targeted product call Atom, previously known as Silverthorne, to compete in the ultra-small form factor market.  There are definitely highs and lows to each product offering from a technical and marketing point of view and during this week of Computex in Taipei some of the differences between the products have become much more apparent. 

New Performance Results for Nano and Atom

One of the most interesting things we saw at the combined VIA/NVIDIA press conference was updated and more detailed performance information comparing VIA's Nano processor and platform to the Intel Atom platform.  We had some initial performance numbers on display when Nano was initially released but VIA shared some new scores that we are likely able to relate to.



Source: VIA Technologies


Source: VIA Technologies

The fact that these are manufacturer provided benchmarks puts a bit of a damper on them, but they are extremely interesting to see and analyze none the less.  We don't have actual scores (probably because they would be so low compared to regular processors we are used to testing) but instead see a relative number that tells us how much faster the Nano is compared to the Atom.  In PCMark Vantage the results range from 13% to 52% depending on the actual test suite being run but the overall score is 22% faster. 

The next graph has some SiSoft Sandra scores, 3DMark06 and SuperPI results.  In Sandra the Nano has a lead in all the results provided but has the largest performance advantage in the SiSoft Multimedia FP score - this is good for VIA as their floating point performance on the C7 and previous generation of CPUs was pretty poor.  SuperPI sees a HUGE performance leap for VIA's new part compared to Intel's Atom.

VIA and NVIDIA Show Nano Running Bioshock, Crysis

A large part of the press conference was used to discuss the partnership that VIA and NVIDIA are beginning in working with each other's technologies and products.  For this first showing, all we really saw was a Nano-based mini-ITX motherboard that that featured a x16 PCI Express slot on it - perfect for a discrete GPU that NVIDIA lovingly provided. 



A real solution to mainstream gaming?
Believe it or not, this simple PCIe slot is the poster child of a vast area of contention between VIA's and Intel's take on the mini-ITX designs.  Intel is trying desperately to control how their Atom-based platforms are produced, what features they have and what price they sell for in an attempt to control their overall product line and keep Atom from cannibalizing the Celeron parts.  That means no PCIe slots, limited DIMM support and almost no retail availability for Intel's Atom. 

VIA is obviously taking the other approach, opening up their mini-ITX 2.0 solutions to any and all takers as they simply want to see their CPU and platforms adopted by as many users and customers as possible.  We'll discuss this more on the next page.

Using a VIA Nano processor at 1.8 GHz, 2GB of DDR2 memory and an NVIDIA 8600 GT graphics card, the two companies were proud to show both Bioshock and Crysis running on the platform.  Obviously, the frame rates were a bit low and the IQ settings were less than what we test with on the 9800 GTX cards, but the game ran well, looked good, and is inline with an experience a modern console would provide. 

The point of this demonstration was twofold.  First, VIA and NVIDIA wanted to show that they are more than willing to partner together on an "optimized PC" design to compete with the likes of Intel and AMD that COULD do the same without involving either of these two companies.  Secondly, they wanted to show that this partnership could actually bear fruit that is relevant to our market and that gaming, as well as the other less system intensive tasks, are more than addressable by the VIA Nano platform (and NVIDIA GPUs of course). 

Along with this demo VIA was showcasing a new revision of mini-ITX - 2.0.

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